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Today’s reader question comes in from reader Bryan, who asks:

Just finished reading your “Avios are Worthless” post and I have to say that I really appreciate your Web site!

Thanks for all the great info.  I thought I would write quickly to see if you had any advice on how best to use my Avios to fly to Europe this summer from the Midwest.

From the BA site, it appears I have to use Avios AND a lot of money. Almost as much as the actual flight.

Following up with Bryan a little over email, he volunteered that he is based in Indianapolis (yay! another Midwesterner! and is looking to fly to use British Airways Avios to fly anywhere in Europe with his son during the first week of August

Bryan also wisely mentioned that although he is attempting to go to Zurich, Switzerland, he is not particular about where his Avios take him, correctly deducing that once he’s “across the pond”, he can make his way to Zurich by train, or on a European low-cost carrier.  Being flexible with your dates and locations can really help you either use your miles or find a cheap cash fare!

Fuel surcharges trying to use Avios

What Bryan encountered wondering how to best use Avios is not uncommon and the reason for this is something that the airlines called “fuel surcharges”.  Ostensibly introduced to combat rising fuel prices, fuel surcharges are no big deal on a cash ticket – they’re just included as part of the fare.  But on award tickets, these so-called “fuel surcharges” are added to the number of miles you need to redeem an award ticket.

Here’s an example of a sample itinerary for Bryan trying to figure out how to use Avios – this is from Newark (EWR) to Paris (CDG)

best-way-how-to-use-avios-fuel-surcharges

In addition to paying almost 100,000 Avios for a roundtrip flight, he has to pay nearly $1500 for 2 people!  No thank you!  And that’s not even accounting for the UK Air Passenger Duty that he might have to pay if he departs from the UK back to the USA

(SEE ALSO: 4 ways to avoid paying UK Air Passenger Duty (APD) )

The 2 tricks to get the best use of Avios

There are 2 main tricks to get the best use of Avios.  First, DON’T FLY BRITISH AIRWAYS! I know that seems counter-intuitive, but the best way to use British Airways Avios is not on British Airways.  Instead use one of their partners or oneworld alliance members instead.  Your best bets would be either American Airlines, FinnAir, Iberia or airberlin.

The second trick is that you should just focus on getting across the pond – so do searches for award availability from hub to hub.  Things like New York – Berlin or Chicago to Madrid, etc.  Avoid London as a European hub both due to UK Air Passenger Duty and the high fuel surcharges British Airways charges.  Here’s an example of a flight from Miami to Berlin using British Airways Avios

best-way-how-to-use-avios-british-airways-airberlin

The other thing to remember is that you don’t really get any advantage for booking a straight roundtrip with your British Airways Avios, so consider an open-jaw flight, depending on where you can find availability

(SEE ALSO: Stopover, Layover or Open-Jaw – what are they and what’s the difference?)

You might fly into Berlin and out of Madrid.  Yes, you would have to make your own way between Berlin and Madrid, but that’s generally fairly cheap to do with low cost carriers in Europe.  Or (ironically enough), using Avios for short haul flights in Europe can be cheap – only 4500 Avios one-way for most flights.

British Airways website is good for some searches, but I also find aa.com to be a good resource, especially for checking multiple dates at a time.

How to use Avios to fly Iberia

Iberia is a little different as it is owned by the same company as British Airways and also uses Avios.  You can freely transfer your British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios, provided that you’ve had your Iberia account open for awhile and have had some activity (including transfers from American Express)

Travel is Free had a good article on how to use Avios to fly on Iberia

Remember with British Airways Avios, they price each and every segment by the flight distance.  Most flights from the US to Europe are going to be in the 4000-5500 mile range, which means that they will cost 25,000 Avios one way.  If Bryan flies from JFK, you may be able to find a flight that is less than 4000 flown miles, which would be only 20,000 Avios.  If you are willing to fly during off-peak times you might be able to make it for fewer Avios, but basically all of July and August is peak times (meaning peak prices)

Other ways how to use British Airways Avios

British Airways Avios would not be my first choice for miles to use to fly to Europe, but if that’s all you have, then that’s all you have!  The best use of Avios has traditionally has been short-haul flights on either American or Alaska within the US.  It used to be that any flight fewer than 650 flown miles only cost 4500 Avios, which could provide exceptional value!  As of last year, it now costs a minimum of 7500 Avios if you’re flying originating or departing from the US, though short-haul flights in South America or Europe (or elsewhere in the world) are still only 4500 Avios

Hopefully that helps Bryan as he wonders how to use Avios and what is the best use of Avios?  Readers what are your suggestions for the best way how to use British Airways Avios?  Leave your suggestions in the comments, and as always, if you have your own questions, feel free to email!

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